(Written in December of 2020 as a Rhode Island submission to SCBWI’s anthology, The Haunted States of America for middle grade readers.)
I wasn’t always a ghost. In fact, when I was of the living, I lingered until I grew to be a rather old man. But I died, just like all people do, then began a new sort of existence. And I must say, it’s been pretty fun! Or, at least, I’ve made the best of things. Maybe it’s because I especially enjoy exploring means of mischief and have always had a fondness for theatricality. Honestly, I haven’t felt the urge to leave just yet, so for now, I continue to haunt The Barn. It is, afterall, where I died.
Before it was preserved as The William N. Grandgeorge Theatre in Bristol, “The Barn” was two separate historic buildings located in Glocester, Rhode Island on Whipple Steere Farm. I took my last breath in the upper corner of one of the haylofts. When the barns were disassembled and reconfigured into one on the Roger Williams University campus in the 1980s, I stuck around. It didn’t take long for me to make a name for myself. Playing a few notes on a piano or experimenting with a sound board once or twice earned me quite a renowned reputation, if I do say so myself. I even earned myself a nickname: Banquo. You know, from Shakespeare’s Macbeth. No, it’s not my favorite character or play but what’s in a name anyway.
I’ve also been given my own chair, reserved just for me. The kids like to believe that if they sit in it, they’ll encounter some sort of grave misfortune. While I appreciate the sentiment, or course, a little superstition can go a long way, it’s not like I can actually sit in the darn thing. Plus, seeking vengeance on a bunch of liberal arts students is far too easy. I’d much rather treat myself to a little rehearsal chaos by hiding a few props or banging on a set piece at all hours of the night. Afterall, even in death, all the world’s a stage.
The musicals have always been my favorite though. And tonight, it’s Opening Night of Oklahoma!. I’ve seen a lot of shows by now and I obviously have strong opinions of all of them. But I’ll admit, I was surprised by the decision to produce a Rogers and Hammerstein musical known for large choral arrangements and sweeping dance numbers inside our small venue. And I made my bewilderment known during auditions by slamming on the upstairs rehearsal piano several times, frightening a freshman who was nervously preparing their sheet music. But despite the building’s physical restraints, Oklahoma!’s not half bad. In fact, I have come to rather appreciate it. I haven’t been able to get the score out of my mind for weeks and although I don’t have an actual beating heart anymore, if I did, I bet it would fill with warmth watching a story about hope for our country’s future. Plus, the revolving love triangles of characters are pretty juicy, though I prefer the backstage romances and dramas between the actors even more…
Every time the cast reaches the second act and all the problems have been solved with a wedding, I revel in listening to the wholesome song that unites them all. The one that shares its title with the show and state’s name. When I hear the lyric, “We know we belong to the land, and the land we belong to is grand!” I close my ghostly eyes and remember the days spent working on a farm in my rural community of Glocester. And while Rhode Island may not have the wavin’ wheat of Oklahoma, I still find our land to be just as grand.
I had planned to go easy on this cast tonight. It is their big opening, afterall. I was going to sit back, relax, and be transported away for the evening. But when I found one of the freshmen mindlessly resting in my chair, I felt I had no choice but to unleash some mayhem.
At first, I just flickered the hallway lights a bit. But that itch to continue was too intense to ignore. “By the pricking of my thumbs, something wicked this way comes” and all that; so with a little flick of the wrist, I made the dressing room go dark and let out a tiny gleeful laugh imagining the students who were cast as characters well above their own collegiate generation, struggling to complete their old age makeup and unable to spray their youthful heads gray.
A few of the cast members shrieked in surprise but I wasn’t satisfied. Ah, why not power down all the electrical equipment in the booth too?
“Did someone sit in Banquo’s chair?” The girl playing Ado Annie called out, her question cutting into the darkness. I couldn’t help but puff out my ethereal, transparent chest in pride.
“What’s Banquo’s chair?” The skinny freshman boy inquired meekly and the group groaned.
“Duh! In the haunted corner!”
“Oh.” The boy gulped.
“Go and apologize.” Ado Annie demanded. The boy listened, clearly unable to say no to the senior actress (and I have to applaud that casting choice). He took out his cell phone to light up the hallway from the dressing room and inched his way closer to my chair.
“Um. I’m sorry, Blanket.” He muttered.
“Banquo! From Macbeth!” A voice yelled over. Another gasped.
“You did not just say The Scottish Play’s name inside a theater on Opening Night!” Ado Annie wailed. “What are you guys trying to do to our show?” I never could quite understand that superstition but I respect the passion. “Get outside, turn around three times, spit, and then you can knock on the door so we can let you back in.” She told the culprit. “You guys better fix all this before warmups…” Ado Annie proclaimed, crossing her arms across her dress.
“I’m sorry, Banquo. I didn’t know, I swear. And, I won’t do it again, I promise.” The freshman boy whispered to my chair, his words coming out more like a whimper. There was such a sense of sincerity to his voice that I hovered closer to take them in. “This is my first show here. And I have some butterflies. But this cast has worked so hard…” He let out a small laugh. “You know how many nights we spent here learning the routines.” I nodded. It’s true. Some of the kids were not very good at the dancing bits in the beginning and put in a lot of effort to master the choreography. “I really hope you can forgive me. I’ll find a way to make it up to you. From now on, I’ll make sure any new students stay clear of the chair.”
Huh, well, it’s hard to say no to a Banquo ambassador. Fair enough, freshman, I’ll let you off the hook. Like my buddy Shakespeare says, “so shines a good deed in a weary world” so maybe tonight, I’ll lean back into the light. I start with the booth and return the system to working order. Then brighten up the dressing room. Finally, I do a quick sweep of the building to make sure I’ve righted all my wrongs. There’s a faint knock at the door and Ado Annie gives a satisfied smile before skipping downstairs to allow her castmate back inside.
“Thanks Banquo. I hope you enjoy the show.” The freshman boy says before distancing himself from my chair. I won’t admit it to him, obviously, but I’m sure I will. This ghost gig may not last forever, but it’s pretty good for now. If given the choice: to be or not to be, I’d choose to be right here in my barn, my home. And who knows, maybe in my next afterlife, I’ll make it to Oklahoma.